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How the Playoff Bubble Turned Upside Down at Indianapolis

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Joshua Lipowski

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Michael McDowell blew up the Playoff grid with a dominating win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. What in the Playoff grid has changed, and who is now in danger that may not have been in danger before the weekend?

Was this Weekend Good or Bad for Daniel Suarez and Chase Elliott?

On the surface, this weekend may look bad for Suarez and Elliott. They both came so close to winning, but they were unable to get the job done. Worse than that, Michael McDowell winning moved the cut line for the Playoff bubble up by 18 points, so pointing their way in is much more challenging than in past years.

However, both Suarez and Elliott showed race-winning speed for the first time in a long time. Now that they are in potentially must-win territory, both drivers can look at the fact that they competed incredibly well at Indianapolis. The reason why that can breed optimism is the race coming up this weekend is Watkins Glen.

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Elliott in particular is incredible at Watkins Glen with an average finish of 5.7 and two wins. However, Daniel Suarez is not too bad either with three top-5 finishes in five races. Daytona follows Watkins Glen, and Daytona is a crapshoot.

Sure, it was not an ideal weekend for either driver. Particularly in the case of Daniel Suarez because of a pit road mishap costing him a shot at victory. However, they should feel like these next two races are races they can win, and they now have the speed to prove it.

Is Bubba Wallace now in Must-Win Territory?

Bubba Wallace was pretty handy in the Playoffs heading into the weekend with a 54-point cushion. Now, that cushion is only 28 points, and he is now firmly the last driver in on points with next to no chance of jumping up a place in the standings. If there is a new winner, Wallace would fall out of the Playoffs.

It may not be “must-win territory” on paper, but, going all-out points racing is a risky play. Especially considering the fact that Daytona is the wildest of wild cards. There is also the issue of Watkins Glen coming up, which is suitable for many drivers outside of the Playoffs, but not Wallace.

Daytona, however, is a race track Wallace can do well at. He has two second-place finishes there, and his first win in the Cup Series came at the sister track of Talladega.

In short, Wallace is in an unenviable position at the moment. He could be put in an absolute must-win position at Daytona, which is both a blessing and a curse for someone who is good at Daytona.

The Harvick vs. Keselowski Battle

However unlikely it is, it is possible that the final two races of the regular season could see two new winners not currently in the Playoffs. If that is the case, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are now the two drivers on the Playoff bubble. As of the end of the Indianapolis Road Course race, those two drivers are only separated by two points.

That could become an incredibly intense battle at Daytona if there is a new winner at Watkins Glen. It also is a crazy storyline as well with Harvick being in his retirement season.

The battle could also go in the complete opposite direction. If there is no new winner this weekend, both Harvick and Keselowski would clinch their spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs given their 140+ point lead over 17th in the Playoff standings. One way or another, this weekend will paint a clearer picture for Keselowski and Harvick.

The 2023 Cup Series Playoff picture is clear in some regards, but it is unclear in others. These are the major storylines to follow with the Playoffs upcoming.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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